Illustration by Brian Raszka
Lost in Paradise
I have a confession to make: I love beer. Vodka was a cheap fling, whiskey and I have had a falling out (no pun intended), and I told tequila to hit the bricks after an ill-fated trip to Cabo San Lucas many moons ago. But nestling up to some frosty hops at the end of a long day? That always seemed just about right. And after four years of college at a fine Jesuit institution, and seven more toddling around the darkened side streets and flickering taverns of the Disney-World-for-adults that is New York City, it sometimes feels like I’ve drunk enough beer to fill the Caribbean Sea, which coincidentally, was nearby when I downed the brew that sparked this column.
I was in Bimini for a story, and as it has a habit of doing in the Bahamas, the drinking started not long after breakfast. But while my companions uncorked champagne bottles early and often as the captain motored us around the paradisal cays and ghostly wrecks surrounding the island, I held back—I was, after all, on the clock. By the time we pulled back into our slip at the marina, it appeared to me that the others on the boat were, shall we say, sleepy. And so it was that I found myself alone and with nothing to do on a tiny spit of sand far out in the Atlantic Ocean as the implacable Bahamian sun began to whisper its nightly partings.
So what did I do? I did what any self-respecting writer—not to mention Irishman, don’t let the last name fool you—would do in that situation. I slapped on a pair of flip-flops and ventured out on my own in search of a decent bar. As I traipsed down the island’s lone road—known as The King’s Highway even though it’s really just a dusty stretch of decrepit asphalt hazarded by locals in golf carts and beat-up Acuras with cheap rims and booming speakers—I passed a handful of bars, but none of them called my name. That is until I spoke to one friendly local who suggested something intriguing: “You gotta go to Da End a’ da World Bar. Got to,” he practically sang from his perch on a roadside milk crate. Hopping into a taxi, I happily obliged.
I had heard of the bar before. It’s got quite a reputation for supercharged rum drinks, as well as for the bras that (allegedly) hang from its ceiling like over-ripe fruit. But as I pulled up to it, I was surprised by how ramshackle the place looked. Locals donning ratty t-shirts and Adidas sandals milled (perhaps tottered) around out front, while sand spilled out of the front door. The building may have been leaning slightly to the right.
Undeterred, I plunged through the front door and into the darkness. There wasn’t a tourist to be found. Smiling local men lined the bar watching the NBA playoffs with rapt attention, while out back on the dock small groups of women huddled around plastic tables, intermittently erupting into jubilant shouts and guffaws. I pulled up the chair nearest to the water and gazed out over the inlet as skiffs and center consoles skidded across impossibly green flats, the sky conch-shell pink behind them. One skiff pulled up to the docks to unload the restaurant’s catch as a six-foot nurse shark trailed lazily behind like an overfed dog waiting for scraps. The dreadlocked helmsman unzipped a thin wetsuit and began laughing and chirping back and forth with two men who greeted him as he came in, their Calypso lilts so thick that even though they spoke English, the only word I could make out was “conch,” transmogrified by a peculiar Biminian shibboleth into a strange yelp reminiscent of a duck’s quack. A cool breeze blew in off the sea as a sly-eyed yet radiant waitress arrived with the icy Kalik beer I had ordered. She tossed a knowing “you enjoy dat, now,” over her shoulder as she left me be, her full hips rolling rhythmically in retreat.
The beer tasted like magic.
I don’t know if that Kalik is the best beer I’ve ever had, I’m sure I’ve had more expertly crafted ones, and shared them with much-loved family and friends in times of celebration. But right there, just then, sitting in a rickety chair on a little dock on a tropical bay as the day melted into night, I wouldn’t have traded that bottle of beer for its weight in gold.
This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.